Three of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups have refused to agree to lay down their arms in order to participate in the government’s Panglong Peace Conference at the end of the month, a leader from one of the armies said.
Representatives from the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) met on Tuesday with Thein Zaw, vice chairman of the government’s Peace Commission, in the town of Mongla in the northern part of Shan state to discuss their participation in the conference which begins Aug. 31, said Colonel Ta Phone Kyaw, general secretary of the TNLA.
The three groups, which have been involved in skirmishes with the Myanmar military in the Kokang region of Shan state along the border with China, did not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the previous government last October.
“We didn’t have any results from the meeting,” Ta Phone Kyaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The government team asked us to release a statement with some wording that we could not accept. It asked us to include statements that we desire to lay down our arms.”
Government peace negotiators told the three ethnic armies that they would be allowed to attend the Panglong Conference if they first released a statement agreeing to stop fighting the Myanmar army, he said.
Thein Zaw said they could work with other groups during the peace negotiations if they agreed to the government’s offer, he said.
“We didn’t agree on it, and that’s why we didn’t issue the statement,” Ta Phone Kyaw said.
Still hope for an agreement
Though the armies did not reach an agreement with the government team, Ta Phone Kyaw said he believes they all will meet again after the delegation teams inform military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing about the discussions.
Reuters reported on Friday that the Myanmar military was no longer requiring that the three armed ethnic groups disarm before joining the conference, but the Myanmar army had not issued an official announcement confirming this.
Sate Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader and chairperson of the peace conference’s central committee, has made peace and national reconciliation between Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups and the government military a priority of the country’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government.
She is leading the effort to organize the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference, which takes its name from the original Panglong Conference in 1947 during which her father, General Aung San, granted autonomy to the Shan, Kachin, and Chin ethnic minorities before Myanmar gained its independence from colonial rule by Britain. Panglong is a town in southern Shan State.
On Monday, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the Panglong Conference and ending the ongoing clashes between armed ethnic soldiers and national army troops in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state and the northern Shan state.
“We hope State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi can negotiate with the military chief to include us in the Panglong Conference,” Ta Phone Kyaw said.
700 delegates to be invited
Panglong Conference organizers will invite 700 delegates from the Myanmar government, military and armed ethnic groups to the negotiations, said Kyaw Ting Swe, minister of the State Counselor’s Office, during a session of the upper house of parliament on Wednesday.
“According the latest peace talk policy, there will be 75 people from parliament, 75 from government, 150 from the military, 150 from the armed ethnic groups, 150 from legal political parties, 50 ethnic representatives, and 50 other people who should be invited to the 21st-Century Panglong Conference,” Tint Swe said.
Organizers will invite ethnic armies that have signed the NCA and those that have not to review the political framework for the negotiations prior to the conference, he said.
The government will announce the exact number of invitees after the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) meeting that begins next week.
Aung San Suu Kyi heads the 18-member UPDJC, composed of armed ethnic groups that signed the NCA, political party representatives, and government representatives, which is overseeing the drafting process of the framework for political dialogue.
“Even we, the members of parliament’s Ethnic Affairs Committee, don’t yet know what our roles will be and how we have to work together during the 21st-Century Panglong Conference,” said lawmaker Naing Thiha of the Mon National Party.
What ethnic lawmakers want
What’s most important for some lawmakers is that the Panglong Conference be open and all-inclusive when it comes to the armed ethnic groups.
“We want a transparent system that includes all ethnic groups in the peace conference,” said lawmaker Oo Hla Saw of the Arakan National Party. “This is very important.”
Others said they hope that the outcome of the Panglong Conference goes beyond its goals of forging national reconciliation and peace.
“I hope that the push from the 21st-Century Panglong Conference will result in the amendment of the 2008 constitution, because we can’t get what we want without amending this constitution,” said lawmaker Pu Gin Kam Lian of the Zomi Democratic Party.
The constitution, drafted by a former military junta that ruled the country for a half-century, gives considerable power to the Myanmar military and fails to satisfy the aspirations of the country’s ethnic groups for a democratic federal union.
The government also will allow five delegates from 70 political parties whose candidates didn’t win in the country’s national elections last November to attend the Panglong Conference, said Khet Htein Nan, a member of the conference organizing committee.
The political parties must agree on whom to send, he said.
The government also has invited representatives from the United Nations and international organizations to attend both the meeting on the political framework and the Panglong Conference, Khet Htein Nan said.